Seat belts are an integral part of transport regulations and while we know they have saved literally millions of people from serious injuries and potentially death, even seat belts can cause injuries. So, what should you do if you have received a seat belt related injury as a result of a road traffic accident?
Laws Regarding Seat Belts
Before we look at seatbelt injury compensation claims in more detail it is worth reminding ourselves of the legal situation regarding vehicle drivers and passengers. When travelling in a car, van or taxi it is law that:
- Drivers are required to wear seat belts
- Passengers, both front and rear, are legally obliged to wear seat belts
- Children over the age of 12 should also wear seat belts
- Children between three years and 12 years of age (up to 135 cm in height) must use child restraints
- Children under the age of three must use the appropriate child seating restraints
There are some exemptions where seat belts are concerned including certain medical conditions. Where an individual is exempt on the grounds of a medical certificate they will need to show the certificate if they are ever stopped by the police. In relation to commercial buses, seat belts are now fitted by law so gradually the number of “older buses” exempt from passengers wearing seat belts will reduce.
Common Seat Belt Injuries
There are still many instances of injuries received by drivers and passengers wearing their seat belts. These include injuries such as:
- Bruising and burns across the chest
- Fractured ribs and sternum
- Fractures leading to a collapsed lung
- Cuts and lacerations
- Head injuries
- Neck injuries
- Spinal injuries
While a large number of these injuries would appear to be fairly mild, especially compared to what may have happened without the seat belt, they can still be debilitating. Muscle, ligament and nerve damage around the neck area can result in long term pain and suffering and fractures can be extremely dangerous.
Even though many people will obviously be relieved that they have not suffered life-threatening injuries in the immediate aftermath of a high-speed collision, they may still have grounds for compensation as a consequence of seat belt related injuries.
Proving Negligence For A Seat Belt Injury
The key to any seat belt injury compensation claim is proving negligence on behalf of one or more third parties which resulted in an accident and subsequent injury. There are various types of negligence with regards to seat belt injuries which include:
If it can be proven that either the driver of the passenger’s vehicle or another vehicle was driven in a dangerous manner, causing the accident, then this may well be enough to prove negligence. In some circumstances there may be shared negligence if more than one party was at least partly responsible.
Actions Of A Pedestrian
In accidents where the actions of pedestrian led to a seatbelt related injury there is every chance that the pedestrian could be found negligent and liable for compensation. Many people fail to realise that while drivers have a legal obligation to respect all other road users, passengers and pedestrians are also expected to adhere to this obligation.
Actions Of Another Passenger
There will be instances where actions taken by another passenger led to an accident and the subsequent seat belt injury. If any degree of negligence can be proven then there is every chance of a successful compensation claim.
Faulty Seat Belt
While extremely rare, as seat belts are checked as part of the MOT procedure, we have seen instances where seat belts have failed to protect passengers and drivers. In the aftermath of a high-speed collision it may take time to prove faulty equipment was the cause but there are expert engineers who can investigate further.
Badly Maintained Roads
There is a national transport body which looks after UK motorways with local roads the responsibility of local authorities. If you are involved in a road traffic accident as a consequence of badly maintained roads and highways, resulting in a seat belt injury, there may be scope to pursue those in charge of maintaining the roads.
Claimant Partially Responsible
While there is a legal obligation to wear your seat belt when travelling in a vehicle, we have seen instances where victims have not been wearing a seat belt prior to an accident. Many people automatically assume the victim has no right to sue for compensation but this is not always the case. It may be that the party or parties that caused the accident are found negligent and liable to compensation but this may be reduced to reflect the victim not wearing a seatbelt.
Gathering Evidence For A Seat Belt Injury Claim
It goes without saying that in the event of a road traffic collision, even if no injuries are immediately visible, it is imperative that all parties involved seek medical attention. This not only ensures that injured parties receive treatment as soon as possible but a third party account of the accident and injuries received will be recorded by paramedics. The police should also be informed of any road traffic accidents and their account of the event can also be referred to when pursuing a legal seat belt injury claim.
In a perfect world further evidence should be gathered from the scene including photographs of vehicles, photographs of the area where the incident took place together with witness statements. There will be circumstances where the victim is not able to carry out these actions although there may be friends or family members able to collect evidence on their behalf. As soon as possible, it is essential that the period pre and post the crash is recorded in a timeline so that the courts can be given an account of the wider picture.
Legally there is a three year time limit in which to pursue seat belt injury compensation. Normally day one is the date of the accident although this can be extended in the event that an injury is diagnosed further down the line. The situation is different with those under the age of 18 where parents or guardians can pursue a claim on their behalf or they can pursue a claim themselves with the three-year period beginning when they turn 18.
Consulting A Personal Injury Solicitor
Road traffic collisions are by far the most common source of personal injury claims in the UK and all personal injury companies will have experience in this area. A solicitor who specialises in road traffic accidents will be able to review your evidence and where required organise additional medical examinations to determine the severity of any seat belt injuries. Where they conclude you should claim seat belt injury compensation they are likely to suggest a No Win No Fee arrangement. These arrangements are particularly useful to those who may not have the funds available to finance their own seat belt injury claim.
Lodging A Seat Belt Injury Compensation Claim
Once an agreement has been reached with your solicitor it is time to lodge a claim through the courts. Evidence will be passed to the courts with a copy made available to the defendant. In the event of a clear case of negligence the defendant will likely pursue an out-of-court settlement which will not only limit their own legal costs but also ensure that victims receive their compensation as quickly as possible. There will be cases where negligence is refuted or perhaps there is more than one potentially liable party. In these circumstances the case will likely go before the courts. It will then be the role of the judge to consider all evidence and deliver a ruling.
What Compensation Could Be Claimed For?
There are two main types of compensation when pursuing seat belt injury compensation which are referred to as general damages and special damages. In the case of general damages this is compensation awarded to the victim to cover issues such as:
- Pain and suffering
- Life changing injuries
- Mental trauma
There is some degree of discretion available for general damages which will reflect the unique nature of individual claims.
Special damages are in effect recompense for expenses relating to injuries and funding for future injury related costs. These can take in an array of different subjects such as:
- Loss of earnings
- Future loss of earnings
- Medical expenses
- Future medical expenses
- Adaptions to the home
- Additional transport expenses
There is no degree of discretion/variation when it comes to special damages as they are simply repayments. However, when it comes to funding for future injury related expenses these will be calculated by experienced third parties.
If you have experienced a seat belt injury in a road traffic accident caused by careless driving or negligence you may have the right to claim seat belt injury compensation.